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    Han Naeyung’s daily life was monotonous.

    At precisely 7 o’clock, Han Naeyung woke up, took a shower, and had breakfast alone after dressing neatly. With a habit of tidying up, he made sure to thoroughly clean the house three times a week.

    After smoothing out the wrinkles on the bedsheet, Han Naeyung’s routine involved heading straight to his workplace on the first floor.

    If it weren’t for the ringing phone, today would have been no different from yesterday morning. Han Naeyung picked up the phone lying on the dining table. There was no need to check the caller ID. There was only one place from which a call would come.

    “…Yes.”

    The slow voice of Han Naeyung prompted a sigh from the other end.

    – Do I always have to be the one to call first?

    The middle-aged woman’s voice carried a considerable amount of disappointment and concern. Han Naeyung put on gloves and switched the phone to his other hand.

    – Are you eating well?

    “Yes. Please take care of yourself too, Mother.”

    – Your father worries a lot too. Don’t skip meals and make sure to eat regularly.

    “Thank you.”

    For raising me. I don’t want to cause any more trouble.

    Han Naeyung swallowed his retort.

    – Thank you. What child wouldn’t hear such words from their parents? Next time, I hope you’ll call me first. Don’t wait for me.

    She hung up before Han Naeyung could respond. It was fortunate that she ended the call first, knowing it was a request that wouldn’t be easily answered. Suddenly, Han Naeyung’s gaze fell on the entrance to the living room. The door was closed so tightly that not even a breath of air could get through.

    Was it because he was sitting there absent-mindedly today? Han Naeyung left the entrance a bit later than usual.

    The two-story building nestled between commercial buildings on both sides was a gift from his parents the year after he passed the veterinary national exam.

    The second floor was Han Naeyung’s residence, while the first floor housed the animal hospital. The building nestled between large stores seemed almost inconspicuous at first glance. Perhaps because there were no animal hospitals within a 3km radius, business was fairly decent.

    Han Naeyung descended the stairs and took out the keys from his pocket. Despite the chilly weather, the coldness of the metal was not felt. He gripped the keys inside his white gloves and closed the door.

    As the mist, laden with cold moisture, settled on Han Naeyung’s eyelids, he blinked to brush off the weight. After gazing at the murky mist surrounding the opposite building, he turned his body to the right.

    A man stood in front of the animal hospital with his arms crossed, exhaling white breath. A leash was wrapped around the man’s wrist, and following it down, the still sullen terrier could be seen. Han Naeyung nodded to the guest who arrived earlier than expected.

    “It says we open at 8:30, and you’re five minutes late.”

    The breath-exhaling man seemed moderately displeased. He even checked his phone mid-sentence, perhaps indicating an urgent matter.

    “I’ll… open it now.”

    Raising the hand holding the keys, Han Naeyung put pressure on his forelegs to lift his heels. After unlocking the lock at the top of the glass door with the key, he also entered the password for the door lock in the center. Then he pulled the door halfway open after unlocking all the locks.

    As the man entered with the dog, Han Naeyung, who was holding the door, followed suit. A faint breath spread from the corners of the mouths of the two men in the chilling atmosphere inside, hardly different from outside. While Han Naeyung adjusted the temperature of the indoor heater, the man headed towards the examination room.

    The man, who came a week after receiving the terrier’s test results, seemed extremely busy. Lee Seolhwa felt disappointed that he seemed to have gone to another hospital, but Han Naeyung considered that he might be the person running the rescue center.

    He didn’t rule out the possibility that he lied to check the dog’s condition. Besides, steroids had already been detected in the dog.

    “What are the test results?”

    The man abruptly asked Han Naeyung, who had entered the examination room. Han Naeyung turned on the computer to find the test results. Of course, there was no need to double-check the test results, as he had already thoroughly examined them before.

    “There are no abnormalities in the readings. However…”

    However?

    The man seemed to ask with his eyes what Han Naeyung meant.

    “Steroids have been detected.” As Han Naeyung finished speaking, he met the man’s gaze. Seeing him click his tongue, it seemed the man didn’t know.

    “Probably administered at the rescue center… It doesn’t seem to have any life-threatening side effects.”

    It was a truly slow-paced speech. The man once again looked at Han Naeyung, his lips still reddened. Han Naeyung’s fading breath, disappearing with the rising temperature, seemed somehow regretful.

    “So, you mean no other treatment is necessary?”

    “That’s about the progress.”

    Suddenly, someone rushed in and opened the door to the examination room.

    “Whew, it’s cold. Doctor, I’m here. The fog today is no joke… Oh, sorry.”

    Lee Seolhwa, wearing a thick padded coat, widened her eyes. Quietly trying to close the door again, thinking there were no customers, she widened her eyes even more.

    “Oh… Nari’s father?”

    The man chuckled at the title she used to address him.

    “Well, I’ve become an unmarried man with a child.”

    The man patted the head of the dog, which was only looking around. For a brief moment of silence, the vibration sound that had been ringing for a while became clear. The man took out his phone, seeking permission with his eyes before answering the call. After listening to the other person for a while, the man gently pushed aside the quivering eyelids of the dog with his hand and said,

    “My child is sick. We’ll leave soon.”

    – Sir! Your… child?!

    Surely, a loud enough sound to pierce eardrums echoed loudly from the phone. After ending the call, the man handed the leash to Han Naeyung without hesitation.

    “I apologize, but I’ll come to pick him up in the evening.”

    Interrupting, Lee Seolhwa spoke up.

    “Sorry, but we don’t operate a dog hotel.”

    The man chuckled awkwardly and then continued with a charming tone,

    “He seems too anxious to be left alone at home. Maybe it’s because of his past as a rescue dog, but he doesn’t seem to get along with other dogs.”

    It was a plausible excuse. Despite the cold having subsided, Han Naeyung looked blankly at the shivering dog. Eventually, Han Naeyung, wearing white gloves, took the leash from the man’s hand without expression.

    “We close at 7 p.m.”

    “You won’t kick him out even if he’s a little late, right?”

    Looking at the cold face, it seemed that even a minute’s delay might result in the dog being tied to a lamppost. But the man knew better. The person in front of him, Han Naeyung, wasn’t the type to do such a thing.

    Before hearing Han Naeyung’s confirmation, the man, holding a pen, toyed with the paper on the examination table. Quickly scribbling something, he handed the note to Lee Seolhwa.

    “If anything comes up, please contact me here. I’ll come to pick him up in the evening. Well then.”

    The man wasted no time in leaving. Holding the note, Lee Seolhwa had a bewildered expression. About to follow, she hesitated. She alternated between the direction the man had left and where Han Naeyung was seated.

    As the owner disappeared, the dog’s anxiety symptoms worsened. It started spinning in place until the leash tangled. Lee Seolhwa had no choice but to kneel down to the dog’s eye level. She tightly embraced the dog spinning in the same spot. As soon as the warmth of the person touched it, the dog, which had stopped its strange behavior, began to look around again.

    “Doctor, what’s going on?” she asked cautiously.

    “You haven’t allowed separate custody like this recently.”

    There had been occasions when they had entrusted animals visiting the hospital for one or two hours, but never had they taken care of them all day like this. Han Naeyung let go of the leash he was holding. As he took off his gloves, Lee Seolhwa released the dog she was holding.

    Starting from the dog’s face, Han Naeyung firmly massaged its four legs. As he rubbed the body as if massaging, the dog’s eyes seemed a bit relieved.

    “Is it because Nari is a rescue dog?”

    Lee Seolhwa was also surprised when the test results came out. The news that steroids were detected in the animal was not a good sign. Moreover, hearing from Han Naeyung that Nari was a rescue dog, she also suspected the man with colored glasses.

    “He wouldn’t consider leaving Nari at our hospital and leaving, would he?”

    Han Naeyung pointed to the memo she was holding.

    “Since you have that.”

    “Oh, there won’t be such a thing.”

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